Marlborough and Wither Hills: serious wow factor

3 12 2010

The sun beats down as we set off around the vineyards with chief winemaker Ben Glover. I flush my mind of the previous night’s festivities and all talk of mankinis and animals beginning with ‘A’. Visiting journo and MW student (and all round brain) Rebecca Gibb asks all the tough questions, while I just look pretty and take pictures. First stop is roadside (above), looking over the majestic Rarangi Vineyard, a large vineyard based on uplifted seabed, with pea gravels and pockets of silt and clay. This is the jewel in the crown, providing Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and most importantly, Sauvignon Blanc. This grape is really at home here, with the single vineyards Rarangi bottling particularly impressive. Situated a couple of hundred metres from the sea, at the end of the Wairau Valley, and in an area where few other wineries fear to tread, Wither Hills’ Rarangi Vineyard survived its early years thanks to the hand watering of over 200,000 vines, while waiting for water rights go-ahead.

Rarangi is also home to a magical creature called a ‘Callum’ (every vineyard should have one!). After admiring the regenerated wetlands skirting the vineyard, we stumble through some bushes and into a clearing where our very own Callum was popping home-made pizzas into the wood-fired oven and lining up Rarangi Sauvignon Blancs from 2007/’08/’09 and ‘10. What a fantastic advert for the ageability of high quality Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, where acidity is the key.

The 2007 is sinewy with lemongrass, thyme, flint and a chalky back palate. Fresh as a daisy and with years of goodness ahead of it. The ’08 and ’09 come from warmer vintages and show tropical fruit over the apple, asparagus and nettles; the ’09 showing that same level of complexity as the ’07. All are compelling in the mouth, with the texture and profile coming from the acidity (they are unoaked). The 2010 is very slatey on the nose, like the 2007 and a herbal infusion on the palate, with savouriness and crunchy chalkiness. Complex and very interesting.

As a Riesling freak it is a pleasure to see a couple of single vineyard bottlings, even if the quantities made are so small as to make them cellar door only wines. The Kersley 2009 has classic slate and lime on the nose, with a refreshing palate of sweet fruit. It’s only 8g/l RS but seems very dry thanks to the high TA. Might have picked it as a Clare Riesling to be honest. The Rarangi 2009 is more rounded with riper, lusher, yellow fruit, with hints of honey, herbs and dashing lemon acidity. Again the acid profile is key to the success of Wither Hills Rieslings.

We journey 15 minutes back up the valley to the two prime Pinot Noir sites: Benmorven and Taylor River. As we pull up I notice some abandoned mountain bikes by the shed. No, not abandoned. Before I know it I have a helmet on and my stomach on fast spin cycle as we take hilly dirt tracks through the two vineyards. As I nonchalantly try not to plant face, Ben explains the character of the different sites. The Benmorven (to be certified organic in 2012) wines are more feminine, showing great succulence and acidity, whereas the Taylor River provides gutsier, denser, man wines. The glory of both is captured in the blended Wairau Valley bottling, while the single vineyard wines draw on the particular fruit deemed to be the ultimate expression of the character of that specific vineyard.

Later we head to a balcony high up in the beautiful cellar door building where the sun and the tasting line-up both dazzle. There are glasses, bottles, food and just the faintest whiff of a Callum in the air. There are some beautiful whites, from the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc (intense, alive, green pea, mineral and straight line) all the way back to the 2003 vintage of the same wine (honey, richness, herby, palate weight, ripe acidity, like an old Aussie Semillon).

Things get really exciting with a Pinot line-up that included:

Pinot Noir 2001 – 100% Taylor River, “the wine Ben would turn gay for”, very complex, forest floor, cherry, tobacco, smoky chorizo, acidity delivers freshness and balance

Pinot Noir 2005 – masculine but with elegance (thanks to “two sheilas in the winery!”), strawberry, plum, tea leaf, ginger, linear finish, ’05 the vintage the vineyards came online structure-wise

Pinot Noir 2008 – super tight, primary fruit, cherries, raspberries and plenty of structure, texture leaves you wanting more

Pinot Noir 2007 – forest floor, hint of oak and of stalk, smoky hint too, funkiness, layers and balance

Benmorven Pinot Noir 2007 – finesse on nose, grainy, high quality French oak in there, alluring and soft with powdery fresh fruit, layers again

Taylor River Pinot Noir 2007 – more closed on nose, vanilla, plums and blackcurrant, a fruit wall, hint smoky bacon. Tonnes of structure, though tannins still soft and refined.

A quick rest and it’s back to the cellar door for the Battle of the Shirts. In the paisley corner, representing Wither Hills, it’s Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen Glover. And in the Hawaiian corner, representing Mount Difficulty, it’s Maaaaaaaatt Dicey. Also time to catch up with a member of Bibendum’s foreign legion, Becky Potez, who helps the whole dinner pass off beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, that my notes from the Chardonnay blending session the following morning are a bit patchy. I blame Ben, Becky, Callum, Maxine, Rebecca…in fact anyone who was there that night!


Kiwi Pinot Noir: the verdict

10 10 2010


Well it was a joyous evening of fantastic Pinot Noir. Everywhere you looked there was a trophy winning wine or a “Top 10…” in such-and-such magazine. The reality is there there weren’t any stinkers at all, which reflects equally on the quality of Kiwi Pinot now and also the generosity of some great wineries out there. Here are some of my very brief notes. Trying to compere and taste wines and write notes and look cool all at once was almost beyond me… 

Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera Pinot Noir 2009: Gravel and cherries, smoky hint too. Light red fruit is ripe. Very approachable.

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008: A lot more funky and complex on the nose. Mushrooms in amongst the red fruit. Velvety texture and long. Still just a baby.

Trinity Hills High Country Pinot Noir 2007: Intense funky nose with tomato leaf, black olives and ragu! Quite chunky and rich, but not subtle.

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008:  A highlight for me. Really fragrant and delicate. Complex, sappy, peppery and raspberry notes. Elegant. Feels complete and beautifully balanced.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008: Bright red fruit and bags of juiciness with hints of peppery spice. Finish is medium length.

Neudorf Pinot Noir Tommy’s Block Pinot Noir 2008: Subtle, understated and elegant with sappy and earthy characters. Savoury. Lovely mouthfeel and decent length.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2008: Pure Pinot nose, balance of red fruit, raspberry and savoury. Also a creamy element too. Tight with a sour cherry note on finish.

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir 2008: More open and expansive than the Block 14. Another well ballanced, refreshing Pinot with delicate red fruit and just a hint of funk. 

Wither Hills Wairau Valley Pinot Noir 2008: One of the richer Pinots with dark fruit as well as red. Silky palate wrapped around intense fruit and savoury core. Good, long finish.

Wither Hills Ben Morven Pinot Noir 2007: Some doofus left this sample at home by mistake. He has been severely reprimanded.

Greystone Pinot Noir 2008: Really earthy, interesting nose with ferrous hints (yes I did get pulled up on using such a wanky word!). Complex with tight, cherry fruit on the finish. 

Greystone Pinot Noir 2009: Richer, riper and more open than the 2008. Loads more juice and hold the mineral. Still tasty but preferred the ’08.

Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2009: Great for a long lunch. Sweet red fruit up front and suitably refreshing. Not overly complex.

Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2008: As you’d expect feels a more serious proposition. Worlds apart in terms of complexity, class and length. Tonnes going on here, with darker fruit, bitter hints and lots of secondary characters. Deep like @mikerism101.

At the last moment, we were joined by the gang from Misha’s Vineyard, who proffered their approachable Impromptu Pinot and their more serious High Note Pinot, both from Central Otago. I’m afraid my notes had run out of steam by this point, so you can find out more about these wines here –

And notes to selves…in future we’re going to limit the tastings to 10 wines. This one went on a leeetle beeet too long. Hasta la proxima folks. Remember if you’d like to attend a Spitbucket Session then you just need to tweet @coastrestaurant.

(The beautiful view from the Coast #rooftopbar)

(The Gang)

Spitbucket Sessions Vol. 2: Kiwi Pinot

27 09 2010

(Wither Hills Chief Winemaker, Ben Glover, surfs the wave of Kiwi success)

After the first successful foray into the Spitbucket with Semillon, it’s time to get some reds on the go before the Sydney Summer goes nuclear and we’re all begging for white wine, bubbly and ice pops again. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is still the single biggest growth driver for wine in Australia. It’s the fastest growing grape, the fastest growing sector of imported wine and takes out the top 8 spots for Sauvignon Blanc brands by value in Australia. But do I really want to taste 12 in a row? If i’m honest…not really (tho prepared to be proven wrong!). Pinot Noir is where New Zealand’s fine wine reputation rests and there a hundreds of mad bastards there trying to squeeze the best out of this most capricious of grapes.

The French have had hundreds of years of practice in Burgundy, but New Zealand winemakers are an impatient lot and they’re trying to catch up as fast as they possibly can. There’s no doubt that nature has been kind to New Zealand and its love of this grape, but there are a lot of stylistic questions being struggled with at the moment. There is ethereal, elegant Pinot and then there is big, gutsy Pinot (or “Shiraz in Drag” as suggested by @iloveriesling). As New Zealand’s prime Pinot regions establish identities and winemaking practices to go with them, now is as good a time as any to get to the very core of what New Zealand Pinot Noir is all about.

That and…well…it tastes that bloody good frankly. Especially with the line-up we’ll be showing…

The Full Line-up of Wines (order may change)

Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera Pinot Noir 2009

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Trinity Hills High Country Pinot Noir 2007

Neudorf Pinot Noir (wine TBC – I know, we’re living on the edge…)

Villa Maria Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2008

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 14 Doctor’s Creek Pinot Noir 2008

Saint Clair Pioneer Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir 2008

Wither Hills Wairau Valley Pinot Noir 2008

Wither Hills Ben Morven Pinot Noir 2007

Greystone Pinot Noir 2008

Greystone Pinot Noir 2009

Mount Difficulty Roaring Meg Pinot Noir 2009

Mount Difficulty Pinot Noir 2008

With a bit of luck some of the winemakers will be joining in from across the Tasman. To chat to the winemakers live during the tasting make sure you’re following them in advance:



@WitherHillsWine and @maxatwhills



Date: Wed 6th October

Time: 6.30, for prompt 6.45pm start

Location: The beautiful Coast Roof Top Bar – see full details here

Book: Tweet @coastrestaurant to reserve one of the 20 spaces

Cost: Zip